I’ve noticed that when a TV character gives birth, one of the first things the doctor says to her is, “And he has 10 perfect little fingers and 10 perfect little toes!” Then the TV mom swoons with delight and clutches her newborn, but rather well fleshed out and not in the least squish-faced, child against her breast.
Having watched far too many giving birth movies in the last week of my pregnancy, I walked into the delivery room fully expecting the same experience. Unfortunately, neither my doctor nor my husband got the memo. When it became clear that I was not going to get my made-for-tv moment, I started to get a bit frantic.
“Does she have all her fingers and her toes?” I shout across the delivery room. My husband stares at me with a blank look on his face.
“Does…she….have…10…fingers…and…toes?” I ask again, carefully enunciating each word in the hopes that something will break through to him.
“Oh my god, I don’t know,” he responds, “I didn’t look!” He jumps into action, trying to peer over the shoulders of the nurse who is weighing the baby.
When I finally hold her close, I stare down in awe at her little fingers. They look like they belong on the hands of the Pillsbury Doughboy’s love child, so chubby that the knuckles are nearly obscured, but there are 10 of them, just as there should be, and they are all mine.
Over the years my daughter has grown. Her little wisps of hair turning into flowing locks. Knees and cheekbones emerging out of the pudgy baby fat. Her long torso and limber legs shooting her up into girlhood. The only features left recognizable from the tiny baby she once was are those chubby fingers. Each time her hands reach out to me for help, clutching tightly around my own slender digits, I can pretend for just a little bit longer that she is still my little baby, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
And that brings us to today. Tonight at dinner, my five and a half year old baby cleared her throat and made an announcement. She sat up straight in her chair, flipped her long blonde hair over her shoulder, smoothed the skirt of her school uniform over her long legs, and then waved her hand in the air to capture our attention.
“Mommy, Papa, look! I have a loose tooth!”
She folded down her fingers until only one remained, an unimaginably long and skinny index finger with a well-defined knuckle, and used its white-tipped fingernail to reach into her mouth and wiggle around her tooth.
I feigned a cough to choke back the tears and then made all of the appropriate noises. She chattered on about tooth fairies and rewards and outlined her planned purchases straight through until bedtime.
When she finally laid her head down upon her pillow tonight, I smoothed her hair back from her forehead and looked desperately for some trace of the baby I once knew.
Then my beautiful woman-child reached out her slender hand and brushed her fingers down my cheek. “I love you, mommy. Will you read me a story?”
A loose tooth wiggled by an oh so grown-up finger made me cry for the loss of the sweet baby times she’s left behind. With loving words and a caress from long fingers, my growing daughter wiped my tears away.
It turns out that the shadow of my newborn baby isn’t gone. It is merely hidden behind the glowing light of my bright, young girl, who has just as much need for me as ever before.
And that’s why a loose tooth made me cry.